Chords, Hands and Dynamics

In playing chords, as you know, we can vary the tone-color by bringing out the soprano, or the bass, or the soprano and the bass; or the inner voices. And we can make a “banging” sound by playing chords with all voices equally loud. But if we attach our ears to just one or two voices, and shape them (the voices, not our ears) in a “singing” way, we can be confident that the result will not be ugly. From International Keyboard Institute & Festival, NYC. (1’08”).

Another interesting thing is that we can hear a voice clearly even when it’s quite a bit softer than another voice. Listen to the first four bars of Schoenberg’s Op. 19, No. 3 (at 2’13”). You’ll note in this passage that attacks in the softer voice usually occur when the louder voice does not have attacks; this is a help to the listening ear. But sometimes the attacks do come at the same time. What helps us then is that the soft voice is in a different pitch range than the louder voice; in this case, a lower range.

Staying with chords, here’s a question I’ve long wondered about. Sometimes we play a chord near the limit of our hand-stretch. The size of such chords is different for each of us, but every pianist encounters this situation—except Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Richter, Cliburn and a few others—who can reach 12th’s! When the rest of us play such a chord, our palms will be fully opened, and our fingers flat. We have no choice about “fingers curved,” “half-curved,” or whatever: they MUST be flat. Yet I’ve never heard anyone say that the tone quality was unacceptable, or even that it was different from when the same pianist played smaller chords or passage-work. So what is the meaning of the instructions from pedagogues that the hand must be shaped this way or that? If it cannot be thus shaped in a given piece, must be give up the idea of performing that piece?

Copyright © James Boyk 2013. All rights reserved.
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